Women (not) in leadership: The underestimation factor

business women DXC Blogs

With women holding only 4.2% of CEO positions  among Fortune 500 companies, one in five seats in the American Congress and about 30% of seats in the UK parliament, I think we can all agree that there continues to be a lack of women in leadership at the highest levels.

Often, the biggest blockade to equal representation comes from being underestimated. You know the stereotype. Women are fragile flowers. There is a (false) belief we can’t stand our ground, negotiate deals or say no, and some think we can be fooled into an unfair business transaction.

But where have these ideas come from? Is it because women are nurturers by nature? Or is it because history has always painted us as docile, weaker members of society?

It would be hard to argue that an angry lady is not a force to be reckoned with. A mere “go on then” in that tone (you know the tone I’m talking about) to our children and partners is enough to make anyone think twice. So, at the same time we have a reputation as strong, bold, sometimes scary creatures, where “I’ll tell your mum” is often the end of an argument, we are often considered too weak in the business and IT world.

My theory for this discrepancy relates to being underestimated. I believe, not only are we underestimated by our peers, but that we underestimate ourselves, a negative spiral of underestimated-ness.

A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review uncovered the impact of this tendency. It found that women do not apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified, while men apply when they only meet 60% of the job criteria.

I genuinely chuckled when I read this because,  whilst looking for a job, I did exactly this. I would maybe apply if I didn’t meet one or two of the criteria, but anything else was straight into the bin.

Then I came across some very wise words from entrepreneur Richard Branson:

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

And that’s exactly what we as women should do. The blokes seem to have figured it out!

So what holds us back? Fear of failure? Feeling you’re misrepresenting yourself? Worrying that companies want us to be able to do 90-100% of the job right off the mark?

Well I’ve asked Jocelyn Moore, vice president of Human Resources at DXC, to get some answers.

Just on principle, if you apply for a job you can already do, you are likely:

a) Being ripped off, as you’ve been doing a higher position for a lower wage at your current role
b) Just moving sideways and not up

Jocelyn recommends that if you meet most of the job criteria, apply. There are essential and required skills for most job roles. Look at how you can bring your experiences forward with the company against what they’re asking, and how you can progress the company.

Linking back to the “underestimated” theme,  Jocelyn said women are often brilliant at being self-defeatist. “I’m not sure about,” “What if,” etc. Men more typically make declarative, clear statements. So basically, have some more confidence, ladies!

I also sought advice from Roblyn Theodorou, DXC vice president of Aerospace and Defence, on how to combat underestimating ourselves. “Stop viewing yourself as a woman and start thinking of yourself as a leader,” she says.

It’s true! The more we talk about being a woman before being a leader, the more we maintain the many stigmas that come with it. Roblyn also said, as women, we should embrace our natural differences — many of which become clear in motherhood — as gifts.

For my next blog, I am going to do a bit of research and see how we can face the demon within and stop underestimating ourselves. Comment below if you’ve ever caught yourself doing it (I’ll play too!).


Are women leaders the mothers of transformation?

What women in IT can learn from Shakespeare

Why we all need to ask more questions


  1. geosupergirl says:

    Great Blog. Of course caught myself underestimating my abilities many times and then put fear to one side and just do it!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathartic says:

      Thanks for your response, it seem’s so obvious but yet so hard to do! If you have any tips on how you personally did that you’d like me to include in my next blog you know where to find me 🙂


  2. Guilty!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Teresa Carroll-Childers says:

    Yes, over and over underestimating! Enjoyed the blog today, needed a nice shot of this!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Cheryl.

    I see this kind of under representation often. I’m not sure, though, that the problem stems from the mindset of women. From experience, I know that men can be very vulnerable to self doubt and the impostor syndrome. But (at least in technology) men have easier access to much greater resources for overcoming.

    I think we need to hear more often from the kinds of women you mentioned. I think we need our mentor programs to put an emphasis on women as both mentor and protege. I think we need more posts like this.

    Good job. Keep ’em coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathartic says:

      Great feedback thank you. I am pretty young in the company and work in general in a site where I’m surrounded by supportive men. I would love to hear more about your experiences so that I can address that side as well!

      Thank you for reading! My short name is Chart22 if you want to reach out 🙂


  5. Sue Pape says:

    I grinned at the nurture comment. How many women leaders will step up to pour coffee or bring in snacks and then are seen more as office moms than considerate leaders.

    As far as the comments on applying, I give that advice to everyone. It never hurts to apply and shows upper management you are eager to take on new challenges!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathartic says:

      Totally agree, it’s also management’s opportunity to see us as an investment op. Sometimes the attitude to the job is more than than the job itself


  6. Cathartic says:

    Totally agree, it’s also management’s opportunity to see us as an investment op


  7. Nandita Kiran says:

    Good read! I believe most of us recognize this & at times hesitate to act on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lisa Nelms says:

    Very inspirational and enjoyed the quotes from our leadership at DXC.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The first step to realising that we can shoot ourselves in both feet is the biggest. The next is to believe in yourself & go for it 🙂 Ignore anyone who calls you aggressive, bossy or alpha along the way and you will of course, be brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cat – great blog – I found it on DXC Workplace and think it deserves more attention.

    Under representation of women amounts to a huge missed opportunity for employers, particularly in technology. Simply writing and speaking about it is a start and I think there’s lots we can do that’s pragmatic and constructive.

    Looking forward to your next blog.


    • Cathartic says:

      Thank you so much for reading and your comment – I have done a few more since this one, it’s pretty old! Let me know if you need the link. I think it is important to highlight these things and I am honoured you agree 🙂


  11. Candi Lemarr says:

    Absolutely have caught myself, more than once. But women are also viewed as emotional if they come off as strong and knowledgeable and are expected to conform to standards of or male counterparts. Do how do you continue to move up the ranks, outperform, but be held to different standards to achieve the same or greater results of our male counterparts?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathartic says:

      Absolutely spot on. I think that’s why it’s important to point out to anyone who implies that you’re being emotional when you’re strong and knowledgeable – it’s not a bad thing, being passionate and having emotional ties to things can and does (for me) make me work harder and better. We need to make people understand that men and women are equal – yes, but not apples for apples I don’t think, more like apples and pears. Women are better at some things typically, and men are better at others, it’s when you bring them together the power happens.

      I really believe the answer to you question about moving up the ranks is to take away the negative stigma women have about being emotional and difficult etc and show the positives about it. Im not emotional, Im passionate, and because of that, I want to get it right, dont you? Im not being difficult – I just think there’s a better way to do it, this is the benefit of doing it my way.

      We are in a catch 22 because we don’t *want* to tell people as we come across emotional when we stick up for ourselves which is the very attribute we’re trying to knock off!



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